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A Hate Crime You Won't See in Statistics

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You may not have heard of 24-year-old Nathan Runkle. Even if you haven't, you've probably seen the startling undercover images shot inside the California egg industry last year. Those were filmed by Nathan's organization, Mercy for Animals. Nathan started the group in 1999, when he was just 15 years old. Today, Mercy for Animals is a national powerhouse in the animal protection movement. Their expose on the cruelties of California's egg factories was a major force in helping to pass Proposition 2.

On Saturday, December 27, 2008, Nathan was brutally attacked and severely beaten. His assailant went for his face. Nathan suffered facial fractures, a broken nose, a deviated septum and severe bruising.

The attack happened because Nathan is gay. His assailant was able to flee the scene unidentified.

I hadn't originally thought to write a follow-up to my earlier blog about anti-gay hate crimes, "When 'Disagreement' Becomes Murder," but felt compelled to do so by this brutal assault.

There simply couldn't be a kinder and more gentle soul than Nathan Runkle. He has devoted his young life to making the world a better place for all beings, to fighting tirelessly against ignorance and cruelty.

But to his attacker, Nathan was just a faceless, nameless target who deserved to die simply because he's gay. And Nathan is one of the lucky ones -- he survived, and despite his injuries, is expected to recover fully.

In response to my earlier piece, several readers wondered about my focus on gay, lesbian, and transgendered victims of hate. What about other victims, they asked, don't they matter?

Each victim of a hate crime is equally precious. Each is equally deserving of protection and justice.

But the sad fact is that in America, some victims are more equal than others. Crimes against gay, lesbian, and transgendered people are significantly underreported, but from FBI statistics we know them to be on the rise, at least 24% since 2005, and yet they are the only hate crimes excluded from federal and many state statues, making proper investigation and prosecution difficult, if not impossible.

Such is the case in Ohio, where Nathan was attacked. His assault won't officially be considered a hate crime by the authorities, nor will it be included in statistics.

The past two months have seen a surge in brutal attacks against gay, lesbian and transgendered people, or those just perceived to be so. Moses "Teish" Cannon was shot and killed in Syracuse, NY, for being gay and identifying as female in November. In December, Ecuadoran immigrant Jose Sucuzhanay was beaten to death with a baseball bat in Brooklyn by three men yelling anti-gay and anti-Latino slurs. A 28-year-old woman in San Francisco was assaulted and gang-raped by four men for being a lesbian. And just after Christmas, in Dayton, Ohio, Nathan became a target.

What can you do to fight for all these victims?

Write and call your local representatives and demand the introduction and/or passage of legislation that adds sexual orientation and gender to existing hate crime statutes.

Write and call your Senators, Members of Congress, and President-Elect Obama, and demand the immediate passage of the long-languishing Matthew Shepard Act, which would add gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to existing federal hate crime law, and also enable federal authorities to investigate and prosecute hate crimes local authorities fail to pursue.

Gandhi once said: "No one is free while others are oppressed." Members of Mercy for Animals have long understood the connection and have participated in marches for gay rights with banners bearing that very slogan, trying to make people see that all prejudice and abuse ultimately spring from the same source, whether its targets be humans or non-human animals.

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